Kieran Joyce happy with what he got from the inter-county game
The agonising decision to retire from the glamour and excitement of the senior inter-county scene was followed by the best of news, and it helped Kieran Joyce kick on immediately with his new life.
The Rower-Inistioge clubman was only 30 - he won’t be 31 until April - when he made the surprise announcement via his Twitter account that he was finished with Kilkenny.
That was after a glory run that netted him six All-Ireland winners medals, including four at senior level, plus National League, provincial and national success with county under-21 and intermediate teams.
During a face to face with Kilkenny management it was hinted that opportunities to make the team going forward might not be great because the county was planning to head in a new direction with a different group.
He admitted he had sleepless nights for a while, the old “will I, won’t I?” dilemma.
“You do,” he said of the thought process at the time. “It was hard thinking about it. The weird thing was the day I said I was going to retire was the day I found out my fiancé (Lorna Ferncombe from Dungarvan, Co Waterford) was expecting.
“That was great news. One chapter of my life ended. Another began. That eased the pain,” he insisted.
Lorna has been his rock. She has seen him come home down in the dumps when things haven’t gone well in a match or at training.
“She helps change the mood,” Kieran insisted. “She takes me out of it. You need that. You need to park hurling sometimes. You need that person to say stop it, get a hold of things.”
When he looked back on what he had been through - playing in six senior All-Ireland finals; including two replays - he said there was nothing to regret. Sure he even got to win an All-Ireland with his beloved Rower-Inistioge (2014) in Croke Park.
“You think about the games you lost, but that is normal,” he suggested. “I am lucky. Lorna is my reset button. I think everyone needs a reset button. Now I know I am in the right place, back playing with my club, and with a hugely important event coming up in both our lives.”
He described the Rower’s golden day in Croker as “marvellous”, something he would never forget. That was a very different experience. He was aware, because of familiarity with Croke Park on big match day, he had to step up to the plate, be a leader.
He took it on. Shared personal feelings like how he always got butterflies in the stomach on match days when he saw Croke Park helped colleagues relax. The Rower didn’t play particularly well that day, but in extra-time they literally ran away from tough opponents, Kilnadeema-Leitrim (Galway).
Here for a reason
“I picked up a few things from others when I started with Kilkenny,” he offered. “I remember the first time I went in to make up the numbers Eddie Brennan came over. He just said, ‘there’s a reason you are here. Take that on board and work hard’. A couple of words like that can help you settle in.”
He smiled when he recalled the “settling-in”. The first time he walked into the dressing-room he sat down. He was told “no”. That’s Henry’s (Shefflin) spot. The one beside it was taken too, and so were most other places.
He looked over to a corner, went there and pushed in.
“Lads have their own set areas,” he said when he recalled the moment. “In time I had my set area in Nowlan Park when other new lads came in. I could tell them to get out of my spot. It is all routine, and routine is great in some ways.
“You need that routine too. It wasn’t anyone was being arrogant. You sit in the same spot. I used sit beside Conor Fogarty, Eoin Murphy and Wally Walsh, even for matches. That routine is good. It helps reassure you.”
He soon learned that with Kilkenny dropping the head, no matter how bad things were going, was never an option.
“You grit and get on with it,” Kieran insisted. “I got a few scorchings in my time. Seamus Callanan gave me one in Nowlan Park. That day Brian (Cody) left me on. I think it was a bit of a lesson, a ‘put up with it and get on with it situation’. It was part of the learning curve.”
The best thing you can do after an experience like that is go out and play another match quickly and get the experience out of the system, he said.
Kieran always carried three hurleys to matches. There would be others, the ‘cast aways’ at home, plus heavier ones you used in bad weather.
“The problem now is I have to pay for my own hurleys,” he laughed. “That hasn’t happened for a while.”
Did he regard himself as lucky?
“I do to a certain extent,” he offered. “Obviously I was lucky to have played with some of the greats. I worked hard and made sacrifices to get to where I did. I was very diligent.
“I would never put myself in a situation, socially or in any other way, that might impair my performance. I wanted to be an athlete at the highest level I could be. The Kilkenny set up lends itself to that.
“There are no strict rules that you cannot have a drink or anything. But you have to be responsible.”
These times he looks at his brother Darragh, the former All-Ireland minor winning captain, who “is flying” with Australian Rules club, St Kilda (Melbourne) and he wonders.
After making 14 appearances for Sandringham in 2017 - a feeder club for St Kilda’s - Darragh has made strong strides this pre-season as he continues to adapt to the Australian game it says on the club website.
“This year he would be hoping to get a run with the first team,” Kieran explained. “I am very happy with what I got out of hurling, but when you see Darragh and the shape he is in you wonder.
“I would love to have a year when you could focus fully on fitness to see what level you could get your body to. That would a challenge I would love, just to see where you could go.
“I told Darragh to give it everything. He will never get another opportunity like this. I did the best I could, and I leave with no regrets.”